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How to Evaluate the Success of Your Company’s Onboarding Program

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(Editor’s Note: Today’s post is brought to you by our friends at SilkRoad, a global leader in Talent Activation. At this year’s HR Technology Conference and Expo, SilkRoad announced a strategic partnership with CareerBuilder to provide client companies an enhanced onboarding experience. Enjoy the post!)

At some point, all company programs have to be evaluated. The reason is obvious. Organizations don’t want to spend their time and resources doing something that brings no value. The question becomes, what’s the best way to evaluate success. Here are the two key areas to cover during an evaluation:

1.      What is the organization spending?

2.      What level of value is the company receiving?

It’s the classic return-on-investment (ROI) calculation. Obviously, the value needs to match (or preferably outweigh) the cost. Even if you don’t want to calculate ROI, that’s fine. Still have a conversation during program development about evaluation. Ask the question “What does success look like?” The group can agree on things like less turnover, more employee engagement, and increased productivity. Then, the group can figure out how they want to track those results.

Quantitative Methods for Measuring Onboarding Results

I believe that the majority of the time, when we talk about program evaluation, we’re talking about numbers. But even when numbers are involved, there are different methods that can be used. Here are three examples:

Kirkpatrick Levels of Evaluation: Created by Donald Kirkpatrick, this model has become the standard for measuring training program effectiveness. It consists of four levels – reaction, learning, behavior, and results. The interesting aspect of the model is, it suggests that there’s an inverse relationship between the ease in gathering the evaluation data and the value of the data.

Let’s use orientation as an example. At the end of a half-day orientation program, the company might provide new hires with a Level 1 (Reaction) evaluation, which is the traditional one-page training evaluation form. It’s the easiest to collect, but it’s also the least valuable.

You might be saying to yourself, “If it’s the least valuable, why use it?” Just because it’s the least valuable of the four levels, doesn’t mean it has zero value. Using a Level 1 evaluation for orientation could be very valuable to an organization because it’s a new hire’s first impression.

Human Resources Metrics: According to a survey from Korn Ferry, 98 percent of executives believe that onboarding programs are the key to employee retention. Using that statistic means that turnover is an important metric when it comes to evaluating onboarding programs. In addition to the turnover rate, the cost of turnover could be equally significant. Those numbers have an impact on cost per hire.

Another set of HR metrics to consider involve sourcing. There’s a connection between onboarding, engagement, and retention. If employees are happy and engaged with their work, they might be very willing to recommend others to the company. That means the company might see an increase in employee referrals. Not as direct of a metric, but the connection can be made.

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Qualitative Methods for Measuring Onboarding Outcomes

While numbers are important, the numbers aren’t the entire story. Especially when it comes to onboarding. Because it can take months for a new hire to become fully socialized and productive, it’s possible the numerical results won’t show up immediately. That’s why other methods need to be employed:

Feedback sessions: During the onboarding process, human resources can conduct focus groups with new hires to find out their impressions. Again, new hires have a fresh set of eyes on the organization. This is a great opportunity for organizations to solicit feedback.

In addition, organizations can use pulse surveys to obtain quick feedback about an aspect of the onboarding process. Pulse surveys are typically short and sent frequently to get a “pulse” on how the new hire is feeling. A couple of questions that might be asked include:

  • On a scale from 1-10 (1=definitely not, 10=absolutely!), how likely are you to recommend working at the company to a friend?
  • What was the best/worst part of your week?

Of course, another way to gauge employee satisfaction is through the company’s annual engagement survey. Benchmark items can be created to help understand how employees feel about the organization. This is a long-term method of measurement, but it still contains value.

Stay interviews: Somewhat related to feedback, stay interviews are questions that ask employees why they stay with the organization. This includes asking how the onboarding process helped employees. Managers typically ask these questions as part of one-on-one meetings, annual performance reviews, or a standalone meeting to discuss the subject.

Exit interviews: Where stay interviews address the reasons employees stay, exit interviews are designed to find out why employees started looking for a new opportunity. Organizations have an opportunity to ask about onboarding to determine if it was effective in preparing the employee for the work.

Regardless of the feedback method, it’s important to note that when an employee provides feedback, they are doing it in the spirit of being helpful and wanting change. Organizations need to be prepared to address an employee’s comments, even if it’s to say that the suggestion isn’t currently possible.

Use Data and Feedback to Evaluate Onboarding Success

We’ve talked about a handful of methods to measure the company’s onboarding programs. And this isn’t a complete list. Don’t let it deter your evaluation efforts. Organizations don’t have to use all of these methods to determine if the onboarding program is successful.

Use an evaluation method that aligns with your culture. If you’re a numbers company, use quantitative methods. If you’re a storytelling company, use qualitative methods. It’s really awesome when you can use both.

Whatever approach you take, align results with goals. If the goal is retention, turnover can be a measure. Or possibly stay interviews. If the goal is engagement, employee surveys can offer insight. Maybe employee referrals.

Think both short- and long- term. Orientation and onboarding programs are designed to make new hires productive faster. That’s important to the business. However, strategic onboarding programs are an investment. The good news is that they are an investment that pays off HUGE over the employee life cycle.

Instead of waiting until an employee “proves themselves” to provide training and development, provide the training and development first in the form of onboarding. The investment engages the employee, makes them productive faster, and creates a better ROI for the organization.

P.S. Speaking of ROI, I hope you can join me and SilkRoad on Thursday, November 9 at 2p Eastern for the last session in our strategic onboarding webinar series on “Increasing Employee Retention with Talent Activation Centers”. Details can be found on the SilkRoad website. And if you missed the first two sessions – no worries – the recordings are available. (Oh, and BTW – all three sessions have been pre-approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credits.)

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Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby at the 2016 SilkRoad Connections Conference in Phoenix, AZ

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About Mildred Blankson

I am a Human Resource Professional with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. I have several years of experience in Human Resources and i hope this blog will be a great resource in helping you find the perfect job or candidate that you seek.

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